Kasol – the hub of hippies and the adopted home of many Isarelis who fell in love with the Himachal Himalayas – is a must visit destination if you love the mountains and the nomadic way of life. This area is bustling with cafes serving authentic Israeli and Lebanese dishes with the occasional European preparations coming now and then.
The roar of Parvati greets you and it won’t let you sleep in the star studded night. The river is pretty ferocious and is so deep and dangerous that no water sports and navigation have ever been executed here. Just one small mistake could land you in deep (literally and metaphorically) trouble, so river side adventures should be treated with caution.
To satiate our hunger pangs, our trek group decided to explore the dishes at the Evergreen Café, situated in the main Kasol market. This popular outlet is always full and you need to wait for at least 15 minutes before you can get a cosy little corner for your group. I relished the chicken schnitzel which was a crumb fried dish of chicken breast and was a bit dry in taste though it was served with a very fine hummus. Another dish I tasted was penne pasta in pesto sauce and buffalo cheese, which was good but not excellent. I sloshed down these delicacies with a glass of mint and cucumber juice which was freshly prepared.
In the evening, we visited the Manikaran Gurudwara where meals are prepared for almost 100k pilgrims with the hot waters of the Manikaran geyser. The holy site is swarming with tourists and better planning and management of arrangements is definitely required.
Day 2: We start for Barshaini from which the Kheerganga trek begins. The road from Kasol to Barshaini via Manikaran is not so smooth and the frequent bumps will leave you exhausted. We went on a long weekend in June and the already narrow roads were jam packed with pilgrims who had decided to park their vehicles on the main road. Lesson learnt: never ever visit these beauties during long weekend or summer holidays.
Barshaini is the site where the mighty Parvati and the Beas rivers meet and flow together as Beas. There is a damn been constructed there and I am scared to think what this so called development will do to the lovely natural beauty of Kheerganga.
The trek starts with the descent of about 40-50 heavy steps and then a steep ascent through a dry terrain where the blazing Ra will leave you sun burnt. The occasional chants of “Om Namah Shivay” at a local temple will definitely mesmerise you while you trek the first 2-3km.
After about 3km, you will start encountering thriving green forests with narrow trails and small cascades through which you can fill your water bottles. The protected apple orchards will entice you but hey, you are not allowed to touch those fresh stunners.
After 3 hours, you will reach the Nakthan village which has small café serving fresh pineapple and watermelon juices. It is recommended to have these energy boosters since you will be sapped of all the vivacity that you had at the onset of the trek. Washrooms are also available here although they are not very clean.
After 1-2km, we decided to have lunch at a small eatery by the name of Midway Camping at Rudranag which specialises in providing lunch, dinner and breakfast. I hogged on their Pahadi thali which had yellow dal with ajwain (carom seeds), tangy pahadi kadhi, sautéed potato cauliflower and chappatis. Very different flavours which I reminisce till this day.
After a hearty meal, you are determined to move faster and after a while you encounter a bridge which crosses the wild Parvati river. Here it is descends from a huge waterfall and is scary to look at, especially when you have acrophobia. Just when the bridge ends, the luxuriant greenery of coniferous forests with little hints of sunlight commences. The air is redolent with the aroma of mountain flowers and alpine grasses. This stretch extends till the Kheerganga meadow and is comparatively cooler. The soothing air heals your sunburnt skin and tired eyes.
But the steepness returns with an even more treacherous trail. Since it is a moist area with occasional stones, the trail is slippery and is arduous to climb with a 4kg backpack without a stick. I sometimes wonder where I would have been if not for the helpful wooden stick and the protective trekking shoes.
The last 1km is the most difficult one. The steepness confounds you and one has to stride every step with extreme carefulness. The rocks are loose here and you have to use your stick to find the stable ground first.
The last 400m – the steepest– I seriously marvel how I hiked this particular portion. Pure concentration coupled with perseverance to reach before 5pm did the trick. And the stunning view you get of the alpine meadow surrounded by lofty peaks is breath taking.
Since we went during peak holiday time, the meadow was not the pristine one you see in the pictures. It was overcrowded with a host of camps and cafes. Too many tourists definitely mar the experience of going to a secluded place.
The main attraction apart from the 360 degree view of the mountains is the famed hot spring. There are separate sections for both the genders and after a tiring trek of 14km, you do need a Jacuzzi to relax in. Except that this is a natural one with sulphur in it, calming your aching nerves and sore muscles. But it is advisable to not linger in the steaming waters for more than 20 minutes as it tends to make you feel drowsy.
A hot cuppa of Pahadi tea, vegetable fritters and a glass of banana shake return you to your morning energy levels.
The descent is easier and it can be completed within 4 hours in contrast to the ascent which takes 6 hours. While waiting for our jeep, we came face to face with an adorable café by the name of Prem where a mother-daughter duo serves the most decadent dishes with so much love! I tasted the Thukpa, the Nutells crepes and the black gram watery curry with parathas and all of them were excellently done. Do visit this café at Barshaini when you return from Kheerganga.
Best time to travel: March to May. Not recommended in the peak season because of human traffic on the trail.
Travel essentials: Water proof trekking shoes, high grade sunglasses that provide side protection, SPF 50+ sunscreen, full length clothes with a trekking jacket, a proper backpack, ORS mixed with your water, fruits and chocolate bars.
Indian style washrooms are available at the site.
The trek was organised by Kamakshi Pal, an avid trekker and travel blogger who has trekked Kheerganga 17 times.